Report with thanks to Tillie Burger of Bloubergstrand.
At last there was some space for me to go on a tour with Karoo Birding Safaris. Pieter Loubser, Paul van Zyl, Vic Smith, Mike Cleary, ex-British Army, Liz and Emlyn Horne, Howard Laycock and me, Tillie Burger, were all together at La Paix guesthouse in Beaufort-West. Late afternoon we went birding on the Rietbron road. In a short time it was possible for me to tick off a few Karoo lifers, Lark-like Bunting, Karoo Korhaan , Karoo Chat, Rufous-eared Warbler, Namaqua Sandgrouse. Afterwards we have a lovely dinner at Wagon Wheel Motel, (www.wagonwheel.co.za.)
The next day we left for Allemanskraaldam, (www.aldamestate.co.za.) in the Free State. Birds to be noted were Blue Crane, Amur Falcon, Secretarybird, Blue Korhaan, SA Cliff Swallow, Yellow-billed Stork, African Black Duck, Spotted Eagle Owl, Mocking Chat, Malachite Kingfisher, Spoonbill, Red-collard Widowbird, Long-tailed Widowbird and Goliath Heron.
At Midrand we picked up another birder, Neels Nauta. We stayed over at Dinonyane Lodge, (www.dinonyane.co.za) at the outskirts of Nylsvley. The next day we visited Nylsvley Nature Reserve. A local guide, Lucas Namanyane (tel 0785662829) joined us. Birds to be mentioned for the day were Sabota Lark, Rufous-naped Lark, Woodland Kingfisher, European-, Lilac-breasted- and Purple Roller, Violet-backed Starling, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Orange-breasted Bush Shrike, Flappet Lark, Burnt- necked Eremomela, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Pale-, Spotted-, European- and Southern Black Flycatcher, Red-headed Weaver, Black-, Squacco-, Black-crowned Night-, Grey-, Purple- and Green-backed Heron, Greater White- & Intermediate Egret, Little Bittern, Lesser Moorhen, Grass Owl, Red-footed Falcon & Amethyst Sunbird. It was a big thrill when the Black Heron did it’s umbrella-hunting.
Next we stayed over at Ben Lavin Nature Reserve. The reserve itself is very much neglected, but the new manager and his wife renovated the chalets and promotes the reserve again as a birding paradise.(www.benlavin.co.za.) Birds to mentioned were Golden-breasted Bunting, Chinspot Batis, Dusky Indigobird, Marico Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Little Sparrowhawk, Bronze Mannikin, Fiery-necked Nightjar, Gorgeous Bush Shrike and Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah.
The next morning we went to Muirheads Dam in the Levubu Valley not far from Louis Trichardt. Samson Mulaudzi was our guide, (tel 0836629960). The forest was alive with all the bird calls, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Olive Bush-Shrike, Bronze- & Red-backed Mannikin, Purple-crested Turaco, Narina Trogon, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Bar-throated Apalis, Red-faced Cisticola & Crowned Eagle.
There after we drove up to Hanglip Forest in the Soutpansberg mountains. Birds around here were European Honey Buzzard, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler and Yellow-streaked Greenbul, the call of the Emerald Cuckoo, Cape Batis, Yellow Bishop, Streaky-headed Seed-eater, Swee Waxbill, Greater Double-collard Sunbird, Steppe Buzzard and a flock of 12 Jackal Buzzards souring overhead.
The next morning we left for Mapungubwe National Park where we stayed at the tented Limpopo Forest Camp for two nights. On the way we visited Blouberg Nature Reserve where we saw White-crowned Shrike, White-crested Helmet-Shrike, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Lesser Spotted-, Tawny-, African Hawk and Black-chested Snake Eagle. Unfortunately no sign of the vultures.
At Mapungubwe we were surrounded by Meyer’s Parrot, Lesser Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, Meves’s Starling, Black Cuckoo, Retz Helmet Shrike, African Hawk Eagle, Temminck’s Courser, Black-winged Pratincole, Dusky Lark, Jacobin-, Levalliant & Klaas’s Cuckoo, sub adult Montagu’s Harrier, Wahlberg’s Eagle, African Harrier-Hawk, White Stork, Black Stork, Icterine Warbler, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Scops & Pearl-spotted Owl, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Red-billed Oxpecker and Carmine Bee-eater. We also visited the well displayed interpretive centre at the main entrance.
We left Mapungubwe for Popallin Ranch on the banks of the Nwanedzi River. At the Vembe River excitement was awaiting us. Two years ago the bridge was washed away by floods and still not repaired. The detour goes below the original road through the sand and its where the problem lies. Trucks were stuck in the deep sand for two days now while more and more trucks arrived. While everybody shout orders, we have to wait until the trucks were removed. In the meanwhile, under the broken bridge, a man was busy cleaning the Mopani worms intestines without looking up.
On the end, with the help of a 4X4 vehicle, the bus and trailer went through the deep sand and under big cheers the other vehicle went through on its own.
Pafuri Camp was still closed after a flood; therefore we stayed at Popallin Ranch.(www.popallin.co.za). At Popallin Ranch the owners are running a breeding program for white lions. No new birds were add to our list, but the stay was worthwhile it. Birds around the lodge were Carmine Bee-eater, Open-billed Stork, Woodland Kingfisher, Garden Warbler, Wood Owl, Stierling’s Wren-warbler, Wood Sandpiper, Lesser Grey Shrike, White-browed Robin-chat and Red-capped Robin-chat. We had lovely sunset views over the Limpopo River in flood. On our way to Pafuri Gate we saw a huge flock of Pink-backed Pelicans souring overhead.
Birding at the Pafuri Picnic Site the next day was very quiet after the floods. Some of the birds we saw are Bearded Woodpecker, Marabou Stork, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Martial Eagle, Shikra, Tropical Boubou and Red-faced Cisticola.
In the Kruger National Park we stayed for two nights each at Sirheni Bush camp, Mopani, Talamati and Biyamiti bush camps. A visit to the Kruger National Park is always a highlight of a tour.
Great White Pelican, Bateleur, and three species of Vultures, White-backed, Lappet-faced and Cape, were souring above Sirheni camp. At Babalala Picnic-site there was an interesting leuchistic Magpie Shrike sighting. Kori Bustard, Black-bellied Bustard, Red-chested Korhaan, Yellow-throated Petronia, Red-breasted Swallow and Plain-backed Pipit were seen. At the river we saw Saddle-billed & Woolly-necked Stork, Osprey and Comb Duck. At Sirheni camp a Hooded Vulture perched on a tree.
On our way to Mopani we crossed a herd of 300 buffalo. A highlight was the three Bronze-winged Coursers, Ground Hornbills and lots of Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks just outside the camp.
Outside Letaba a big herd of elephant cows with their babies were on the road. The baby elephants were not very keen to leave the warm tar road. The matriarch was not happy with our presents. So we have to back-off but that is not easy with a trailer at the tail. At Letaba we have breakfast and visited the Elephant Museum.
Five Rhinos were close to the road to Talamati Camp. At the camp’s game hide I was an eye witness of how an African Harrier-Hawk raid the nest of a Green Wood-hoopoe. Birds around the camp were Burchell’s Starling, Grey-headed Parrot, the call of the Scops Owl, Swainsons-, Crested- and Natal Spurfowl, Martial Eagle, Red-breasted Swallow, House- and Brown-throated Martin, Yellow-throated Longclaw and Osprey.
Tshokwane picnic site was still under construction after the flood and the birds were not very active. Some of the birds we saw, were Burchell’s Starling, Saddle-billed Stork, Fish Eagle, Tawny Eagle, White-faced Duck, Common Sandpiper, Red-backed Shrike and Retz’s Helmet Shrike.
In the museum at Skukuza one can follow the history from 1902 until 2002. Birds we saw in Skukuza were Scarlet-chested & Collared Sunbird & Purple-crested Turaco. On a sandbank not far from Biyamiti, we saw the White-headed-, Lappet-faced-, Cape-, White-backed and Hooded Vultures and a Bateleur. In a puddle we saw a Comb Duck with its five chicks. Two Brown-headed Parrots were busy with house cleaning. We were lucky to find another five rhinos alive.
After the flood, we were the first visitors to Biyamiti and a free sunset-night drive was been offered to us. We departed at 16h00 and first we went to the washed-away bridge on the Biyamiti river where the White-fronted Bee-eaters are nesting. We saw another five rhinos and an elephant herd. One young elephant bull made a mocking charge that frightens me. In the spotlight we saw Fiery-necked Nightjar, Bronze-winged Courser, Large-spotted Genet and Civet. We all have a great fright when a rhino approached us in full speed, but luckily missed our vehicle by centimetres. More birds to be noted were Black Stork, Woolly-necked Stork, Levalliant Cuckoo, Terrestrial Brownbul, White-bellied & Amethyst Sunbird, Grey Penduline-Tit, Lesser Grey Shrike, three Ground Hornbills, Brown Snake Eagle, Brown-headed Parrots, Greater Blue-eared Starling and Green Pigeon.
We exit Kruger NP through Malelane gate. We drove via Kaapmuiden, Barberton, Carolina, Hendrina and Bethal. The towns are neglected and the condition of the roads is very bad, but the scenery made up for that. We saw Long-crested Eagle, Long-tailed Widowbird, Southern Bald Ibis and as far as the eye can see, carpets of pink , white and purple cosmos.
We follow the road to Vrede, Warden and Bethlehem where we stayed over at Cheetau Game Lodge, (www.cheetaulodge.com,) on the outskirts of the town. Not only a place to white lions, but a wide variety of the cat family. There are not many birds in the area, except the Red-throated Wryneck, but a very nice place to stay over especially if one is coming or going to or from the Kruger National Park.
The next stay over were at Garingboom guestfarm, (www.garingboom.co.za.) of Jan and Riette Griesel. Here one do birding from the back of the bakkie and Riette pointed out all the specials of the Free State. Eastern Clapper, Melodious, Pink-billed, Spike-heeled, Large-billed and Red-capped Lark, Buffy- and Plain-backed Pipit, Cloud-, Desert- and Zitting Cisticola, Ludwig’s Bustard, Northern Black and Blue Korhaan, Orange River Francolin, Blue Crane, Quail Finches, Booted Eagle and the Red-throated Whryneck. Garingboom is also the place where the Kimberley Pipit and Long-tailed Pipit occurs, but for now, there is a lot of uncertainty about this two species.
The next day we did a detour to Gariep dam and the Orange River White-eye, which was a lifer for most of the people, White-throated Canary, Grey Tit, Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, White-backed Mousebird, White-breasted Cormorants, African Darter, Alpine Swift, White-rumped Swift were new birds for the list.
At Beaufort-West we went birding on the Loxton road and I added two more lifers, Grey-backed Cisticola & Fairy Flycatcher. We also added Layard’s Tit-babbler & Mountain Wheatear to the list.
We left the next day for Cape Town. We did 5200km. I saw 329 species of which 10 were lifers. The trip list was 366 species.
It was a tour full of adventure, laughter, joy, good company, excellent accommodation, fantastic birding and good food. Thanks to the drivers that bring us safe home.